It feels like a new era is on the horizon with the New Orleans Saints. At least that's what the writing on the wall indicates with so much personnel leaving for bigger opportunities and a good bit of roster turnover expected. Naturally, at the center of this all is what Drew Brees ultimately desires to do in the future. All signs point to retirement, which ignites a variety of feelings among fans. Sean Payton is pretty optimistic about the future, and he should be.
The Saints do have a ton of decisions to make on their players set to hit free agency. While some should be no-brainers like Lil'Jordan Humphrey (ERFA) and J.T. Gray (RFA), the big ones to solve for are in their unrestricted pool. Here's some initial thoughts on where the priorities should go.
- Marcus Williams, FS (24)
Williams arguably had his best season with the Saints, and he's probably the top guy to bring back. It's tough to see the team keeping both Hendrickson and Williams, and it feels like the back-end is where you want to have solidified right now.
- Jameis Winston, QB (27)
I keep going back to what Payton has said about Winston and how they view him. Again, where there's smoke there's fire. It feels like 2021 is going to be a QB battle between Winston and Taysom Hill, and Winston is better equipped to win that one.
- Justin Hardee, CB (27)
Special teams matter, and Justin Hardee is one the most underrated gunners in the league. He's put some roots down last summer in New Orleans with a Papa John's franchise. This seems like an easy re-signing.
- James Hurst, OL (29)
There's a lot to like what Hurst brought to the Saints offensive line in Jumbo sets and even filling in as the primary reserve option to Terron Armstead. This seems like an easy decision, assuming the money is there.
- D.J. Swearinger, S (30)
There's just something about the dynamic Swearinger brings even if he doesn't play much. A similar deal to last year (1-year, $1.1 million) seems like pretty good insurance if something drastic happens.
- Noah Spence, DE (29)
Spence didn't have a chance to get his season going after suffering a torn ACL. This could mean a simple and easy re-signing for him at a veteran minimum deal to at least compete in training camp, assuming he's back to 100 percent.
- Michael Burton, FB (29)
Fullback doesn't feel like the most important position, but there's a lot to love about Burton's abilities. He finished out as PFF's 4th overall graded one in 2021. At least one more year for the veteran.
Let Them Walk
- Jared Cook, TE (34)
Cook had his good moments for sure, but had several disappointing ones. He absolutely could make an impact for any team he plays with, but this feels like the Saints will move on and go with youth like Adam Trautman or try to get another free agent pass-catching tight end to add.
- Trey Hendrickson, DE (26)
Hendrickson had a career season with the Saints, which is sure to net him a ton of cash on the open market. My thoughts are simple. You found Hendrickson in the 3rd Round, get his replacement with one of your projected compensatory picks, or let Carl Granderson develop more into that role. Bringing back Ryan Nielsen certainly helps.
- Johnson Bademosi, CB (31)
J.T. Gray and Justin Hardee would be your guys here over Bademosi. There's also some intrigue with Keith Washington.
- Bennie Fowler, WR (30)
An unfortunate injury ended Fowler's season, and having players like Marquez Callaway and Lil'Jordan Humphrey emerge seem like where they'll go over Fowler.
- Ken Crawley, CB (28)
He's a familiar presence who could fill in if things got tight. Perhaps they'll look his way later on in the process, but it just feels like there's a different direction they'll go.
- Dwayne Washington, RB (27)
Let's see what Tony Jones Jr. can do with a season under his belt.
- Alex Anzalone, LB (26)
This is something to watch, especially with how the Saints handle Kwon Alexander's contract.
- Cameron Tom, OL (26)
Tom just hasn't got to play much on the field, and Will Clapp has been the de facto lineman that does. Nick Easton's football future certainly seems cloudy, so maybe there's a chance here.
On The Fence
- P.J. Williams, DB (28)
Williams is best-equipped as a safety for the Saints. Of course, his versatility is coveted, but there's a scenario to play out if Marcus Williams does leave that P.J. Williams could get a shot. For that reason, I'd lean more to keeping him.
- Ty Montgomery, RB (28)
Montgomery finally found an offense that could use him properly, but did it come too late? Latavius Murray has a $4.2 million cap hit coming, and with Mark Ingram becoming a free agent, maybe there's something to where the running back room goes here. Regardless, Montgomery could be an upgrade over Dwayne Washington at special teams as the third guy. However, we'll just have to see.
- Sheldon Rankins, DT (27)
Rankins didn't have a dominant season, but did have a healthy one. He's a guy you'd love to have back in the fold, but can't do it for what his fifth-year option price cost. There certainly feels like a sweet spot here to get a smaller deal done.